Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 11, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:18 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thanks for your patience. A little delayed today, but for good reason. So I have a couple of items at the top.
As you know, tonight the President will deliver his first primetime address to the American people at 8:00 p.m. Today marks the one-year anniversary of the shutdown due to COVID-19, and the President will speak directly to the American people about the sacrifices made — from the more than 500,000 lives lost, to the millions of people who are lost — have lost their jobs, and the even millions more who have been impacted by the pandemic.
He’ll provide an update on the work of his team to address the greatest operational challenge the country has faced and the work his team has done to rapidly increase the number of vaccinations — vaccines, vaccinators, and vaccination sites. And he will lay out the next steps he will take to get the pandemic under control.
Even while he was focused on getting the American Rescue Plan across the finish line, he has been reviewing drafts of the speech — last week, he was and, of course, through the course of this week — and making line edits. He has been providing line edits in order to ensure that he is striking the right tone and providing the right level of clarity as he prepares to address the country this evening.
He plans to provide a clear outline of his approach, level with the American people about what is required of them, but also provide a sense of hope of what is possible.
I wanted to provide a little bit more on upcoming travel, as you — of all of our principals, as we worked — as we prepare to go out and engage with the American people about what is in the Rescue Plan. As you know, next week, the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, and the Second Gentleman will be traveling across the country to kick off the “Help is Here” tour and amplify the American Rescue Plan.
On Monday, the First Lady will travel to Burlington, New Jersey. The Vice President and Second Gentleman will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Delaware County, Pennsylvania, as you already are aware. The Vice President and Second Gentleman will travel to Denver, Colorado.
On Wednesday, the Second Gentleman will travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
And on Friday, the President and the Vice President will travel to Atlanta, Georgia.
During their trips, they will discuss the benefits of the American Rescue Plan for working families, and they will engage with people at each of these stops about how the American people can benefit from the components of the package moving forward. So they will talk about the $1,400 checks that more than — that 158.5 million American households can expect, in which — and many who will start receiving them soon.
He will talk about the historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit. He will talk about extending — they will all talk about extending unemployment insurance for around 11 million Americans; the tens of billions of dollars in rental and homeowner’s assistance that is a part of this package; the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which will go to 17 million workers; and the components of the package that significantly reduce health insurance premiums for millions of American families. And, of course, the fact that the bill will lift 11 million people out of poverty and cut child poverty in half. They’re eager to get out there on the road.
And I have one more exciting implementation update for all of you. Since the Treasury Department — Department of Treasury and the IRS are working hard to get relief payments out the door as fast as possible to the American people, people can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their back accounts as early as this weekend. This is, of course, just the first wave, but some — people will start — some people in the country will start seeing those — those direct deposits in their bank accounts this weekend. And payments to eligible Americans will continue throughout the course of the next several weeks.
So, with that, Jonathan, why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thank you, Jen. Tomorrow, the Chief of Staff tweeted, there’ll still be a celebration, in terms of this bill signing. Congressional leaders would be attending. Can you tell us who will be there, and if any Republicans — who none of them voted for this bill — would be invited?
MS. PSAKI: So, the celebration tomorrow will be a bipartisan — I mean a bicameral, excuse me, event, but it will not be bipartisan. It will be — it will include leadership, and we are still finalizing the list of attendees, but we hope to get that to you as soon as it’s finalized.
Q Can you walk us through, as part of the “Help is Here” tour, decisions behind the locations for the travel next week, in particular, the President’s two stops? Why Pennsylvania and why Georgia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is just the beginning of the President’s and the First Lady’s and the Vice President’s and the Second Gentleman’s travel, and they will, of course, do some travel in addition to next week. But it was important to the President to visit not just blue states, but also red states, purple states. You will see that reflected as we continue to announce travel and trips that he will take in the coming weeks.
Obviously, these are two places where he, of course, talked about the importance of delivering on the promise of getting every American the $2,000 checks when he campaigned in Georgia in December. So that’s a place where that message really resonated, of course, with the people of the state, and where it was amplified to the public. But, you know, it’s a place also close to his heart.
But this is just the beginning of the travel. I wouldn’t over read into it, other than he is looking to having — he’s looking forward to having the senior members of the — the principals from the administration out across the country — fanning out across the country, which is exactly what they’re doing.
Q And I have one more on a — on a different topic: The trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has begun in connection to the death of George Floyd. Has the President been briefed on the developments so far? And he condemned the death, certainly, when it happened. Does he believe that police officers should be convicted of murder?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President obviously doesn’t weigh into — he’s not going to weigh into an ongoing judicial — or a legal case. He’s watching it closely, as are many members of the administration.
As you know, he, himself, encouraged the House to pass the bill that — and he is very pleased that it did. And policing reform in — broadly speaking, is an issue that he believes is urgent and one that he is committed to working with leaders in Congress and also taking steps, as he can take on his own, to address.
But, you know, he has spoken about — he spoke about the trial and, of course, the — the death of George Floyd in personal terms. And that is a reflection of how he continues to feel as he watches the events unfold with the trial. It affected him personally. It redoubled his commitment to address — advancing racial justice. That’s why he signed an executive order on racial equity on his sixth day — one of the reasons why he signed an executive order on racial equity on his sixth day in office. And, of course, he will be watching it closely, as many people in the country will be.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Jen, just a follow-up on some the vaccine news from yesterday. The President said that one reason he wanted to have another 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the cupboards, as it were, is to be prepared. If everyone is vaccinated by the end of May, or at least able to be, what are you preparing for? What might happen that the U.S. would need an additional 100 million shots for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday. But the reason why — one of the reasons why we ordered the additional 100 million doses is because we don’t yet know what vaccine is most effective with children. Those tests — that testing is still happening with the FDA, as we speak.
As you noted, he wants to be over prepared and oversupplied. We’re still looking at the impact of variants. These — this order of dosage can — doses can also be used for booster shots, which is something that’s also under review by the FDA. So he’s just preparing to ensure we are ready for every contingency here in the United States.
Of course, we want to be a part of the effort around the world to vaccinate people around the world in a range of countries. That’s why we’ve provided $2 billion to COVAX with another $2 billion committed. We are the largest funder of global health in the world, and we’ve invested over $150 billion in global health activities since 2000. We’ve reengaged, on day one, with the World Health Organization. And we’re continuing to engage — he is personally, and many levels of our administration are engaged personally with their counterparts about addressing this pandemic globally.
But his first priority and focus is on ensuring that the American people are vaccinated. And once we are at that point, we will have a discussion about what’s next.
Q My understanding is the President directed this to happen yesterday, but the deal is not — with J&J, isn’t yet in place. When do you expect the deal to be made?
MS. PSAKI: Soon. I can get you an update. I can check with our team and see if there’s — what the final details are, but we certainly anticipate and expect the deal to fully move forward.
Q Just one other vaccine question related to a story that my colleagues did from Europe. Has the U.S. told the European Union not to expect deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca that are made in this country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first we have conveyed privately what we’ve conveyed publicly, which is that our focus is on ensuring the American people are vaccinated. And, of course, any company can work with any country around the world on the purchase of vaccine supply. And certainly that wouldn’t be something the U.S. government would be directly engaged with.
But in terms of the supply we have purchased, our first focus, our primary focus is on vaccinating the American people. That’s what we’ve conveyed publicly and privately, as well.
Q Yeah, you’ve said that a lot. But have there been any specific indications or conversations with the EU, saying, “Don’t expect this to come from our country, at least until the rest of this population is vaccinated”?
MS. PSAKI: We have pretty — we have said that — we have said publicly exactly what I’ve conveyed, which is what I’m conveying as we convey the same thing privately. Of course, any country can purchase vaccines from these manufacturers directly.
Q Thank you. Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says the people coming into the U.S. right now see Biden — President Biden as the “migrant President.” Does the White House take that as a compliment?
MS. PSAKI: The migrant — give me a little more context.
Q Well, he said, “They see him as the migrant President and so many feel — so many feel they’re going to reach the United States… We need to work together to regulate the flow, because this business can’t be tackled from one day to the next.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, it’s — Mexico will have to be — is an important partner in ensuring we’re addressing the flow of migrants from Central America through Mexico and many to the border of the United States. We have conveyed privately and publicly, as well, that the majority of people who come to our border will be turned away.
We certainly also recognize that because the President and our administration has made a decision that the way to humanely approach immigration is to allow for — you know, for unaccompanied minors to come and be treated with humanity and — and be in a safe place while we’re considering — while we’re trying to get them into new home- — into homes and sponsored homes, that — that some more may have come to our border.
And there have been, of course, a large flow of children across the border. We recognize that, but that is — that — we made a policy decision because we felt it was the humane approach. But the facts are the vast, vast majority of people who come to our border are turned away, and the statistics bear that out.
Q Okay. And then, in terms of keeping COVID out of the country, does the White House think that it’s a problem that travelers have to show a negative COVID test — proof of a negative COVID test when they fly into the U.S. from any foreign country, but travelers don’t need to show anything like that when they just walk across the border, as long as they don’t go to a port of entry?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s been a lot of confusion about what’s been happening at the border, as it relates to people who are coming across and what happens when they come across. And I know Governor Abbott down in Texas has expressed some of his concerns, and many of those have not been based in fact.
So let me go through a few of those, because I know we’re all interested in facts around here. One, Governor Abbott has referred to what’s happening at the border as “open borders” — as us having an open borders policy. That is absolutely incorrect; the border is not open. The vast majority of individuals apprehended or encountered at the border continue to be denied entry and are returned undo- — under Title 42, as we’ve already mentioned.
Also, he has suggested that we are not vaccinating CBP officers. Again, we like to deal with facts around here. There’s no higher priority than the health and safety of our federal workforce. And the Department of Homeland Security and CBP has been clear that currently more than 64,000 frontline DHS employees, including members of U.S. Border Patrol, have received a vaccination. So that’s another — just — point — just to provide full clarity.
The other piece is the question about the testing of migrants at the border — or testing of migrants as they are coming across. And we have — DHS and FEMA have stepped in and worked with local mayors, NGOs, and public health officials in Texas to implement a system to provide COVID-19 testing and, as needed, isolation and quarantine for families released from Border Patrol facilities. Their proposal and agreement would cover 100 percent of the expense of the testing, isolation, and quarantine, but Governor Abbott has decided to reject that.
So, there are a number — there’s a lot of confusion about these issues, and I just wanted to provide a little point of clarity here.
Q But not asking about Governor Abbott; asking about President Biden in charge of the federal government: Why are the feds relying on NGOs to administer these tests? We’ve talked to people down at the border who say that migrants are only tested if they show symptoms. That seems like a loophole.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not an accurate depiction. There is — there’s an important role that NGOs, that local mayors, that local officials play in working together. And this is a proposal that was worked with DHS, with FEMA, and others to help address and ensure that people are tested. And Governor Abbott — I raise that simply because he had raised a concern about that, and I wanted to be clear that we’ve put forward a proposal.
So I think the question is: Why is he standing in the way of local communities getting the funding and support they need to help with testing, isolation, and quarantining efforts?
Q But again, just a question about Biden-administration policy.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q COVID is COVID. COVID at the Dulles Airport customs is the same as COVID in a border town. So I’m curious why it is that it’s enforced for people flying in from other countries, but it is not a requirement by the federal government to test — or to prove a negative test anywhere along the border except at a port of entry.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I can just describe to you what our policies are. If there’s more to convey to you, I’m happy to do that.
Q And then, just one quick one on green jobs. You guys have talked a lot about tackling the climate crisis while creating good-paying jobs. Now the president of the Texas AFL-CIO has come out to say, “Someone working in a refinery leaving to go install solar panels, they’re probably going to take a 75 percent cut in pay.” Is that something the administration is aware of?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure which jobs are being compared there. Here — here’s what I can convey to you: The President is committed, during his presidency, to invest in — work with labor unions, with climate activists, with a range of — with the industry to invest in good-paying, clean energy jobs.
And he believes that unions have an incredibly important role to play in ensuring that those are high-paying jobs; that those treat the people who are in them with the respect and value that they deserve through collective bargaining rights and a range of the benefits of union organizing, being a part of a union.
Obviously, that requires additional work and investment by the federal government, working with Congress, to invest in what we see as industries of the future. Oil and gas jobs are not going away. There are many industries that are, of course, continuing to function.
The outgoing administration flooded the oil markets with cheap federal leases. This will not affect oil and gas production or jobs for years to come.
But what our objective is, is to invest in what we see as the industries of the future, where we feel is where the jobs are going to be moving forward. And the President looks forward to continuing — delivering on his commitment to doing exactly that.
Q High-paying, good-paying — but equal-paying?
MS. PSAKI: High-paying, good-paying jobs. I think we’re comparing —
Q Equal to what they’re —
MS. PSAKI: — a little bit of — I’m not sure what specific jobs you’re comparing. What I’m conveying is the commitment to ensuring that jobs in the clean energy industry will be high-paying union jobs. That’s what the President’s objective and commitment is to.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q The White House has said that President Biden wants to look ahead to a return to normal in his speech tonight. But how does he do that while also striking the balance that 1,500 Americans, on average, are still dying from coronavirus every single day?
MS. PSAKI: You’re absolutely right, Kaitlan, that his objective is to strike exactly that balance. And this is one of the reasons that he has been line — line editing this speech for the last week plus — to ensure that he is conveying — that he is leveling with the American people; that he is delivering on his commitment to being truthful about the challenges that we continue to face, what is going to be required of the American public to get to a return to normalcy, as you conveyed. But he also wants to provide a sense of hope and what’s possible if we abide by the guidelines; if when you have access to a vaccine, you get the vaccine — what people can look forward to.
And — so he is — that is exactly the balance that he is hoping to strike tonight.
Q So should we expect like concrete steps and policy changes in this speech tonight?
MS. PSAKI: I think you can expect — you know, this is his first opportunity — primetime, of course — to really speak directly to the public. You — we all have a conversation about a lot of these issues every single day.
Most — millions of Americans out there are living their lives — some of them, you know, dealing with their kids in school, getting their jobs done, et cetera. And this will be an opportunity for many people to really tune in and hear from him on his plan, on what his team has done to date, what steps they’ve taken — an update since he took office, but also concrete steps he wants to take moving forward.
There will be some news in the speech, but it is really about laying out clearly for the — for the American public what steps he’s taken, what his team will do, and what is expected of them as well.
Q And since he’s just signed this bill, has he decided who is going to oversee the implementation of it?
And then, on the ceremony tomorrow: You have some Republican senators who did not vote for this bill now touting parts of it. What is President Biden’s response to those Republicans like Senator Wicker?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we invite them to work with us on the agenda moving forward. Because clearly, the bill that the President just signed into law is something that the American people are excited about, that people will benefit from as soon as this weekend, as we conveyed. And we are hopeful that as the President talks about his Build Back Better agenda, has more meetings with members of Congress, we’ll have more people on board from both sides of the aisle.
Q And regarding who’s overseeing?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, you know, we are — as I mentioned yesterday, the President absolutely is committed to having a person who ru- — is running point on it. I don’t have any personnel announcements today.
Q And one last question on the border. The administration has refused to call it a “crisis,” instead referring to it as a “challenge” and saying what you call it doesn’t make a difference on how you’re responding to it.
But now, today, there are over 3,700 children — unaccompanied migrant children in Border Patrol custody. They’re spending, on average, over 100 hours — four days — in these facilities that are jail-like facilities not meant for children. So how can you say that’s not a crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what Ambassador Jacobson and Secretary Mayorkas were conveying, and what I’ve conveyed is: It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is an enormous challenge. It is something that is front and center for the President.
As we — I noted yesterday, he had what is a regular meeting, but he had a briefing yesterday on the trip to the border. And there are a number of — while there are no final policy decisions, there are a variety of actions under consideration, including identifying and assessing other licensed facilities that can help add safe capacity for these children; relaunching, as we talked about over the last couple of days, the Central American Minors program; accelerating the unification of children with vetted families — family and sponsors; steps like embedding HHS and ORR in the earlier parts of the process.
So, you know, the President is very focused and very in the weeds on the operational details here and on taking and pushing his team to take every step that can be taken to address exactly what you noted, Kaitlan, which is the fact that children should not — these Border Patrol facilities are not made for children; that we should — we are focused on expediting the time they spend there; that these HHS shelters are not meant for permanently — for permanent living — for anyone permanently living there; that we want to expedite the timeline between when kids cross the border and when they are getting to sponsor homes.
So our focus here is on getting to the root of the issues and taking actions. And we don’t feel the need to, you know, play games with what it’s called.
Q But aren’t those the steps that you would take if it was a crisis that you had on your hands?
MS. PSAKI: These are the policies we’re taking to address what we feel is a vital human challenge at the border. But what our responsibility here is to do is to project and convey what policies we’re taking, what the President’s commitment is. That’s exactly what we’re doing, and we don’t see the need to put new labels.
Q Jen, thank you. No Republicans voted for the COVID relief package. And they argue that this is the sixth package, and it adds to a deficit that’s already a trillion dollars this year alone. What do you say to that criticism that, ultimately, this type of a sweeping piece of legislation will be a drag on the economy down the line?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say to them we’re in the midst of twin crises, from the pandemic to an economic downturn that is impacting tens of millions of people in this country. People are struggling to make ends meet. They are worried about whether their grandparents, their cousins, their friends are able to get a vaccine. And they are suffering because they’re worried about the mental health of their kids who aren’t back in school yet.
And the President’s focus is on addressing those crises. And I would point a ques- — send a question back to many of these Republicans as to why the deficit spending wasn’t as concerning when they were giving tax cuts to the highest income, but now it’s concerning when we’re giving direct checks and relief to the American people.
Q When you look forward at the rest of the agenda that President Biden has laid out, how do you get even moderate Democrats on board with another big piece of legislation — for example, his climate plan that has a price tag of $2 trillion?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no price tag on a plan that doesn’t exist yet. So they’re —
Q That’s what he laid out during his campaign.
MS. PSAKI: Well, sure, but he also laid out many components of his Build Back Better agenda during his campaign and we don’t — we haven’t made a final decision yet as to what the format, the size, what the next proposal will be. It’s not even something that has been brought to him for a decision quite yet. Obviously, he’s had a lot of discussions and meetings to hear from Republicans and Democrats, but we’re just not at that point in the process yet.
Q And I know you’re not going to weigh in on the specifics of what he’s going to tackle next, but given that this was not a bipartisan piece of legislation and given that the President said that unity was one of the key things he wanted to try to accomplish, is he going to try to move forward on a piece of legislation where he thinks he can get bipartisan support? In other words, how is that going to factor into his decision-making process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President would, of course, love to have bipartisan support, and there are areas of policymaking that he has talked about quite a bit — as you noted, some of them on the campaign trail, including infrastructure. Modernizing our immigration system has actually historically been a bipartisan policy-making issue. He had a meeting on cancer and addressing cancer and tackling cancer, of course.
There are a lot of issues that he feels there’s opportunity to work together on. And his open — his door — the door to the Oval Office remains open to bipartisanship, to finding ways to certainly work together.
Q If I can try one more time on the issue at the border. Just to follow up on the comments of the Mexican President, who said that the surge in unaccompanied migrants is because they see the President as the “migrant President”: What does that say about how the President is handling this situation?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think the President has been clear, as has every member of our administration — you had Ambassador Jacobson doing this the other day — that the border is not open. Now is not the time to come. We turn away the vast majority of people who come to the border — the vast, vast majority. These numbers are put out by CBP and the Department of Homeland Security, and people can see those numbers.
We stand by our decision and our policy as an administration not to send unaccompanied minors back on the treacherous journey. So, you know, that is our policy because we feel it’s humane and it’s moral, and we think the world sees it that way as well.
Q Does the message need to be even clearer though? Yesterday, Ambassador Jacobson acknowledged that, yes — she said in her own words — you’re “trying to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
MS. PSAKI: Yeah —
Q Does there need to be a more streamlined message in order to prevent this surge?
MS. PSAKI: Well, she also talked about, Kristen — which is true — in the region, we’re — we’re working against the efforts of smugglers and others who are conveying a different message.
One of the steps we’re taking, that I touched on a little bit earlier, is also thinking of rebuilding or going back to some of the policies that were in place previously, where children could apply for the Central American Minors program, which was ended in 2017. We estimate there’s about 3,000 kids who might be eligible, who could apply. And they could apply from the region, which would mean they wouldn’t make the treacherous journey. They wouldn’t be at the border working through Border Patrol.
And so we’re looking for ways to reduce the number of kids who are taking this treacherous journey, and then we’re also looking for ways to expedite when kids are connected to family members; to, you know, safe sponsor homes. And we’re looking for ways to expedite getting them from the Border Patrol facilities into the shelters as well.
So there’s our — there’s numbers — numbers challenges here, and we’re working through a lot of the operational details and specifics.
But we stand by, you know, the — what we feel is a more humane approach to what is happening at the border. And we are looking for ways, operationally, to make it more efficient to move kids through the system more quickly.
And ultimately, when they get to the point where we’re — they’re with sponsor homes, the — many of them will not be able to stay — most of them. They have to apply, and they’re — they have to go through the process. But we still are working for ways to expedite the system in the meantime.
Q One follow-up on Jeff’s question on the discussions with the EU.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q On the — well, I don’t know if it’s necessarily an export ban, but the EU is saying the U.S. request was denied to export vaccines. But specifically on the AstraZeneca one, that’s not yet authorized in the U.S. and the U.S. hasn’t sought authorization. So why are you guys sitting on these doses that could be used in the EU now, because it’s already authorized there, but not here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t — we’re not sitting — I’m not sure which doses you’re talking about that we’re sitting on.
Q There’s a report out of — out of Europe that the U.S. told the European Union that they cannot expect any AstraZeneca shipments anytime soon.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t — we don’t own purchases — we didn’t purchase AstraZeneca supplies. I mean, so, the — there’s no export prohibitions. And all vaccine manufacturers in the United States are free to export their products while also fulfilling the terms of their contracts with the U.S. government.
Q So is — in any of these government contracts with the individual companies, are there specific export prohibitions — if it’s not an export ban overall — in the contracts that the U.S. government has with these companies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our — but you’re talking about whether we’re going to give our supply to other countries. Right? Or are you talking about whether these countries — or whether these manufacturers are going to sell doses to other countries?
MS. PSAKI: The second?
Q Whether the — sorry, say that again.
MS. PSAKI: So, I’m just trying to understand. So, are you talking about whether these companies are allowed to sell doses of their drug — of their —
Q Well, I’m talking about how it’s almost like a triangle — right? — because these companies have contracts with the U.S. government that say, “You have to fulfill this contract with us.”
MS. PSAKI: Right.
Q And so, is any of that prohibiting, then, exports of any of the doses produced here to the European Union?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I just conveyed, there’s no — these are not export prohibitions. Vaccine manufacturers in the United States are free to export their products while also fulfilling the terms of our contracts. There are — there are supply that they are producing for the United States, but they can also work with other countries and —
Q Sorry, now I think I —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — now we’re on the same level.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q So, the contracts that you have with these companies, are there any specific — is there a specific provision in those contracts that would say, “You cannot export until you fulfill our contractual obligation with the U.S. government”?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details of the contracts, but obviously these companies can work with other countries on selling their products. Manufacturers can work with them to — with these countries directly.
We have conveyed privately what we’ve conveyed publicly, which is: Our focus is on ensuring the American people are receiving the vaccine, and that we are vaccinating the American public. That’s our first priority. But we are also engaging with and working with the global community to figure out how we can get the global pandemic under control together, whether that’s through financial contributions or through, you know, navigating with them how we can work together to address it.
But we’ll continue to evaluate as more vaccines become available in the United States. AstraZeneca isn’t even approved at this point.
Q Yeah, one other topic — completely different. You just said, again, the President hasn’t yet made a decision on the next legislative package or what it will be and —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — when it will be unveiled. There’s a seems to be a little bit of momentum, led by Senate Majority Leader Schumer, on a package that is like a broad, sort of, China — countering-China package. Is the White House coordinating with the Senate Democrats on this? Are you in touch with them? And is the President sort of actively going to engage with this effort —
MS. PSAKI: With the — with the proposal by Senator Schumer?
Q Correct. He — there was —
MS. PSAKI: I am certain if Senator Schumer —
Q — a report yesterday —
MS. PSAKI: — wants to discuss it with him, he’s happy to discuss it with the sen- — with Senator Schumer — with Leader Schumer. But I would expect the President’s agenda, moving forward, will reflect the Build Back Better agenda that he talked about on the campaign trail. But the order, the size, the timeline has not yet been determined.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have a couple of foreign policy questions —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — specifically on Africa. But I just want to pick up something that you discussed with — earlier about the Central American Minors program.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I just want to make sure that I understand you correctly, that you were presenting that as sort of like an immediate solution to what’s happening at the border by saying that this will take about 3,000 kids. Well, what I don’t understand is that, first of all, what’s going to be processed are the kids who were already in the process — and it was stopped in 2017 — and then the State Department will continue to process new applications. So that process, in itself, takes months, no?
MS. PSAKI: The — they will be prioritized. The process was stopped, as you noted, in 2017, and the kids who were eligible then will be prioritized.
Q So it’s not an immediate solution to what’s happening on the border?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I said that. I don’t have a timeline for you, but it is what — well, I actually — if you were listening earlier, I gave a number of steps, actually. That’s one of the steps.
The other steps address some of the things that you just raised, including the fact that we are working to find ways to accelerate the unification of children with vetted families and sponsors, embedding ORR and HHS in earlier parts of the process. We’re identifying and assessing other licensed facilities.
So this isn’t a — this isn’t a challenge that’s going to be addressed through one step, but certainly, the Central American Minors program is a way. And the reason I talked about it is because it’s a way to help ensure that the application process for these kids happens while — not while they’re sitting in shelters in the United States or even with sponsor families, but when they are still in their home countries. And they will know before they make the journey that they are able to come and stay in this country. And that’s a pretty pivotal step to take.
Q Thank you for clarifying that. Now, on the issue of Africa, does the President share the assessment of Secretary Blinken that what’s happening on the Western Tigray Region of Ethiopia is “ethnic cleansing”? Does the President have any specific view on the particular role of Prime Minister Abiy in this conflict? And is the U.S. considering any kind of action, beyond urging the Ethiopian government to stop sending their forces?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I got an update on this from my team earlier, so let me just see what I have here to update you on.
So, the administration has repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government on the importance of ending the violence and sharing unhindered humanitarian access and allowing a full independent international investigation into all reports of human rights abuses.
As you noted, Secretary of State Blinken has spoken to the Ethiopian Prime Minister twice to emphasize — emphasize the United States’ concern about the humanitarian and human rights crisis we’re seeing. During his testimony yesterday, he reiterated the situation is unacceptable and has to change and that we’re calling on the Ethiopian government to follow through on its commitments that it’s made. And also at the U.N. Security Council, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has reaffirmed U.S. commitment to working bilaterally and multilaterally to help secure an end to the violence.
So, the President is deeply concerned, highly engaged on this issue. He recognizes that we have very active ongoing efforts by our diplomats to try to move this forward to a better place, including getting humanitarian aid workers in with full access. And, of course, he remains in touch and working closely with his Secretary of State.
Q Another topic, still on the continent.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q On the issue — still on Ethiopia, actually — the Trump administration was very much engaged in mediating the conflict between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan on the issue of the Nile dam. Is the Biden administration willing to continue mediation process, as has been requested by Ethiopia — sorry, by Sudan and Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: I would send you to the State Department. They’d be more directly involved at this stage.
Q One more. One more Africa question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Western Sahara — also, President Trump, as you know, recognized sovereignty — Morocco’s sovereignty of the Western Sahara region. Now Spain is asking for a U.N. resolution or U.N.-brokered solutions. Spain is a former col- — colonizer of Western Sahara, asking for a U.N.-brokered solution on this issue. Has the administration completed its review on this particular Trump deal? Because it does, you know, deal with the overall Abraham Accords policy. And what is your position on it?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, we are reviewing all of the — many Trump positions, including the Abraham Accords. But I don’t have an update today for you on it.
Q Yeah. I just wanted to go back to the border.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q My colleagues reported yesterday that the administration is looking at a NASA facility in California to house some of these unaccompanied children. Can you talk a little bit about the plan to identify and find space for them? What — what sort of facilities are you looking at?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a list of facilities, but I will convey that we are — or reiterate that part of our effort and our focus and what we’re prioritizing is identifying and assessing licensed facilities that can help add safe capacity for these children.
And even with the update in CDC guidelines that we’ve talked about a little bit this week that allows for greater capacity safely at these facilities, we still want to ensure that we have facilities that are safe, licensed, and prepared to house children so that we can move them quickly from the Border Patrol — the Border Patrol locations.
But I don’t have anything — we’re looking at a range of sites — our team is — and I’m sure some will be hopefully identified soon, but I don’t have anything to preview for you beyond that.
Q Okay. And then on the trip with princ- — with all of the principals, kind of, crisscrossing the country next week —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — it’s an interesting list of states. I think you said “purple,” at least. I’m wondering, even though that this relief package has no support here, what have you been hearing — or what do you expect to hear from Republicans in these states? Do you expect to be received by them at all? Have
you heard much — like have you —
MS. PSAKI: Republicans, like local elected or —
Q Yeah. Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think what we saw, even during the effort to pass the American Rescue Plan, is that there are 400 governors and mayors across the country — many of them Republican. We had a Republican mayor come here and talk to you all about how vital and important this was to his community.
And so we certainly anticipate that many of the local elected officials who supported the passage, who are seeing, you know, funding coming into their states to help ensure that cops and firefighters keep their jobs; seeing funding that’s going to come in and help reopen schools; seeing people in their communities get checks as early as this weekend — that they will be open, many of them, to engaging with the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, the Second Gentleman, where there’s an opportunity to talk about the benefits and communicate to their communities about how people can access these benefits.
And that’s a big part of the — this blitz around the country is ensuring that the American people have that understanding and that’s what our — all of our principals will be conveying.
Q Could I ask another quick one?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I’m just curious. I know the President has speechwriters, but were you around him when he was working on this speech? Like, who were the advisors around him that have weighed in and pitched in ideas and helped him edit?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Look, I think — you know, the President has been doing this a while and certainly he had a good sense of what he wanted to convey. And he is someone who is a — you know, a — an anti- — an anti-acronyms advocate, so he wants to explain things with clarity and with directness to the American people.
And I will tell you that, when he goes through speeches like this, he asks questions that I can imagine friends of mine and family members of mine might ask. “What do you mean by that?” “And when you say that, how will I get access to that?” And that’s, when he reads through the speech, what he’s looking to provide clarity on.
And he fully recognizes that — that, you know, speaking during a primetime address is a moment where you have to, you know, tell a story about — and recognize the — the great sacrifices the American people have been through, and speak with truth and with directness about what is still required, but also provide some hope on what’s ahead.
Because it — we are, as Kaitlan alluded to earlier, there is still — we are still in the middle of a war with the pandemic, and he will certainly be clear about that. But he also wants to give people a sense of what’s possible and what’s ahead, and what we can look ahead to once more and more people in the country are vaccinated.
Q So the President has visited Wisconsin and Michigan. He’s going to visit Pennsylvania and Georgia. Has there been a special emphasis on him visiting presidential battleground states in the early days of his presidency?
MS. PSAKI: No. He did win a lot of states, so I will say that. He — you will see him visit red states, states he did not win; of course, blue states, and states he did not visit during the campaign, as well. So that is certainly part of his desire and interest and commitment, and something we’ve also talked about quite a bit. Because he is committed to governing for all of the American people, not just people in blue states or swing states or purple states or whatever color you want to call them, and that is something he has a great interest in doing.
And, you know, even when he was — he also visited Texas, which is certainly not — not yet a blue state. But — but when he was there, he traveled around the state with Governor Abbott because his view is that when we’re addressing crises, whether it’s a weather crisis, or COVID, or the economic downturn, that, you know, he’s going to govern for all — for all Americans and work with people of both parties.
Q If I can ask just an unrelated question. So, the relief bill includes subsidies for the healthcare exchanges and COBRA coverage. The President, during the campaign, talked about also implementing a universal public option, lowering the Medicare age to 60. Does he still plan to pursue those policy initiatives, and when can we expect to hear more on that from him?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I mean, we’re only on day 50. We’ve got a lot more time to go here. Buckle up.
Yes, he is — of course, this was his number one priority was getting this American Rescue Plan passed. Today is a very big day here in the White House — significant moment for the American people, of course. But he remains committed to and interested in pushing forward with the rest of his agenda and the commitments he made when he ran for President over the course of the last two years.
Q Thank you. Last June, then-candidate Biden said, “looking ahead in the first 100 days of my presidency, I’ve committed to creating a national police oversight commission.” Is that something that he still intends to establish within the first 100 days?
MS. PSAKI: He does. We have 50 days left. Look at all we’ve accomplished in 50 days. We have much more to — much more to happen in the next 50.
Q Is there a timeline for when he will be —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a timeline for you. You know, this, of course — because when he came in, he knew that taking steps to get — you know, addressing the pandemic — under control — to get relief out to the American people had to be what he spent his time doing. But, of course, there’s a lot he wants to do to address the “four crises,” as he’s defined them, that are facing the country, and racial inequality is certainly one of them. He talked about, as you mentioned, the police commission when he was running, and certainly there’s a lot more that he would like to get done from his agenda.
Q Can I just ask one more question about the American Rescue Plan?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I’m following up on Kaitlan’s question. You said that some of the money is starting to go out as soon as this weekend.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q So why has the White House not yet announced the person overseeing the implementation of the bill, and when can we expect that announcement? And then, once that person is appointed, how will that person be working with the various inspectors general at the agencies and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to ensure adequate oversight?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it doesn’t — you know, the President believes it’s a model, looking back at the Recovery Act, where having a person who can pull all the levers of government and engage with mayors and, you know, le- — city leaders and community leaders is an effective means of ensuring that implementation is efficient moving forward.
I only told you about the one person yesterday who’s going to oversee this. So, while I don’t have personnel announcements for you today, it’s also clear that that is not delaying our implementation. I mean, the Treasury Department, the IRS will still be the ones who are implementing the direct checks or the direct deposits, which is what the majority of people will get. And, of course, the Department of Education will still be the ones overseeing and working with school districts in order to get funding out to reopen schools.
None of that is changing. We’re just talking about a person to be the coordinator, but it doesn’t delay the implementation of the bill. And, of course, it’s a priority to him and why he wants to have somebody in that position.
Q Will that person be working with the inspectors general in the various agencies, though, to make sure that the money is going out as smoothly as possible and that there’s no — I mean, I know that a lot of watchdog groups raised —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — raised issues with how the money was dispersed under agencies in the Trump administration. So will the person overseeing implementation be looking at that to make sure that that (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, reducing waste, fraud, and abuse, and preventing it is certainly a priority for the President. He’s already taken steps to address that in this — in the last 50 days. And certainly, when he was overseeing the Recovery Act, that was a priority for him. So I’m certain that, as we look to implementation, that will continue to be a focus of his as well.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Yeah. A question about the first meeting today of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Group. How important is it to President Biden that the — sort of the U.S. strategy on Iran be coordinated with Israel, given the fact that the Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, doesn’t like the deal, has been very vocal about it?
MS. PSAKI: We feel that — you noticed — you noted a strategy — or a meeting today, I should say — that many here may not be aware of. I can share more details on that.
But it’s vital to the President and to the administration that as we are looking ahead to approaching diplomacy and moving toward, you know, a diplomatic track to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, that Israel is a — will be a continued partner, will be regularly briefed. And that was true when the JCPOA was being negotiated and put into place to begin with, and certainly would be the case if this diplomatic track moves forward.
Q So are you trying to, kind of, avoid some of the public acrimony that was evidenced when Joe Biden was Vice President? It’s very clear that Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t like this deal.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it was clear for some time. And then once it was in place, I think, many countries in the region were happy to have the direct visibility into what Iran was doing — to have inspectors on the ground.
And certainly, we’re very familiar with the opposition as the bill is being negotiated, and we can — will continue to work with and directly engage with Israel if this — if there’s a diplomatic path forward.
And even without that, they’re an important partner — Israel is. But I would say they’re — it quieted a bit once the — once there was a recognition of the benefit of visibility on the ground. And we don’t have that now, and we haven’t had it since the Trump administration pulled out of the deal.
Q Just to follow up, though: How concerned is it — is President Biden of statements coming out of Israel — for example, from the head of the IDF who said military option is still on the table, but he thinks it’s a bad idea to get back to this deal? I mean, is the United States worried that the relationship with Israel could draw the United States into some sort of armed conflict with Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been clear that we feel the best path forward is a diplomatic path. And that’s why we are working with our European partners to see what is possible along that front.
We also believe that it’s an opportunity to expand on the JCPOA and work to address additional concerns we have in the region. But, of course, we’re not — we’re very familiar with the concerns Israel has expressed, and that’s one of the reasons we engaged with them so closely around this and many other issues.
Q And just very quickly — the last question: Obviously, there are imminent elections in Israel as well as Iran. Is the, sort of, strategy right now to, kind of, wait until the outcome of those elections and know who you’re dealing with moving forward?
MS. PSAKI: No, I would say the strategy is to work in close coordination with our European partners, who will continue to be key partners as part of the P5+1, as is Russia and China, should there be a diplomatic — and we’re hopeful there’s a diplomatic path forward.
And certainly we are — you know, we view this as part of the — a diplomatic process: waiting to see what the back-and-forth about the engagement will be. But we’re not looking to delay the diplomatic process. We are, you know, looking to hear back from the Iranians and work closely with our Europeans on the process.
Q Congressman John Yarmuth seemed to think the other day that the President’s budget might not be coming until May. When does the President plan to release his 2022 budget blueprint? And when he does, will he submit a plan that balances in a 10-year window?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any predictions for you on the timeline of the budget. As we talked about a bit during the transition, because of some of the intransigence of political appointees during the transition period, we already anticipated it would be delayed back in December and January.
Obviously, the fact that we don’t have a confirmed OMB Director in place doesn’t help expedite that timeline. But — so we knew it would be delayed, but I don’t have a specific timeline for you or a frame of what it will look like.
Q And on — does the President support congressional Democrats’ push to restore earmarking? Is that a way to sort of foster bipartisanship after this $1.9 trillion package that didn’t get any Republican support?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have a package yet that we’re talking about, that we are working through with Congress. Obviously, the President spent 36 years in the Senate, and he is quite familiar with the role of earmarks. But I don’t — when we have a package to announce and we’re talking about the legislative strategy, we can probably talk about it more.
Q Is that — I mean — because Democrats are making the case that this will — you know, it’s a way to get Republicans to support spending bills, things along those lines. Is that the White House’s view? Is earmarking a potential path to sort of break some of this gridlock?
MS. PSAKI: We just don’t have a legislative package we’re even talking about here. So when we do, we can have a discussion about what the legislative strategy is, but we’re not at that point. We just signed into law — the President just signed into law today a $1.9 trillion package that he is looking forward to implementing. That’s our focus.
And in the coming weeks, we’ll have more to say what’s next, and then we can have a discussion about how we’re going to get that package through.
Q And on the four- —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q I’m so sorry. One more.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. You’re fine. Go ahead.
Q On the $1,400 checks: Consumer advocates are raising concerns that private debt collectors might be able to intercept part of it, because, apparently, language protected that in the last round of $600 checks, but because of the budget reconciliation process, senators had cut that out. Will the President support standalone legislation? I think Senator Wyden says he’s going to be working on that.
And how does the President expect to get standalone legislation to take care of that issue? And how does the President expect to get bipartisan support for, sort of, these provisions — technical corrections like these that pop up, you know, on every major bill like this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure if there are technical corrections needed; I’d have to talk to the Department of Treasury about that. I mean, in terms of the checks, 90 percent of them, about, will go via direct deposit to people’s bank accounts that they have because of people paying taxes.
If there are other additional components that require that, I’m happy to have that discussion with them and see if they think there’s technical changes needed. And if those technical changes require Congress, which I’m not — I’m not sure they would or wouldn’t at this point.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you. I have a couple of questions. Last week, President Biden, in his virtual interaction with NASA scientist Dr. Mohan, said that Indian — people of Indian descent “are taking over the country.” Can you clarify that — what he meant by that? Because there have been some criticism by his opponents on his remarks.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that, the President was just recognizing and honoring and valuing — or this was his intention — the incredible contribution of Indian Americans to science. He was speaking to a — an Indian American woman who is, of course, a scientist and an important part of the NASA team. And he also was, of course, recognizing the incredible contribution of his own Vice President.
And he just believes that — you know, it was a reflection of his belief that Indian Americans could have a — make a great contribution to the fabric of society, whether it’s science or education or the government, and that was what he was trying to convey.
Q And a number of Indian Americans who came to this country as legal immigrants and want to make this as a home, they feel that this administration is not much focused on resolving the issues related to legal immigrants; rather, they are more focused on illegal immigrants. What do you have to say on that?
MS. PSAKI: I would say they — we should — you should write an article about how the President’s immigration bill proposes a number of fixes or changes in the legal and legislative system to ensure that those issues are addressed, and we’re eager to move that forward with members of both parties.
Q I have, on China, a question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Today is the 50th day, and tomorrow the President is addressing the Quad leader summit. And a few days later, the Secretary of State and NSA are having their bilateral meetings in Anchorage, Alaska, on China. After 50 days, what are your major asks from China? What do you want China to do so that you improve the relationship that the United States has with them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would expect, obviously, this — this meeting next week, we felt it was important to have it on U.S. soil. We certainly anticipate that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Tony Blinken will be discussing both the challenges we’ve had in not holding back on issues and concerns we have — we have with the behavior of Chinese leadership, whether it’s on Taiwan, or recent, you know, efforts to push back democracy in Hong Kong, or on concerns we have about the economic relationships.
So they will certainly raise those issues; and the lack of transparency, as it relates to COVID; human rights abuses, as well. But they’ll also talk about areas of opportunity and ways we can work together.
We certainly will not — they will not be holding back in the conversation, but they wanted to — you know, it’s an important moment next week to engage directly and in person. And we’re — I know they’re looking forward to it. We’ll have a robust readout, I’m sure, when that meeting concludes.
Q And a foreign journalist colleague of mine (inaudible) has sent me a question for you. The International Olympics Committee today announced that China will provide vaccination for athletes, teams, and attendees of the Tokyo Olympic Games. What is the response to — what is the response to IOC’s announcement? Does this — the administration recommend the U.S. athletes and attendees get vaccination from the Chinese?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to — I would send you to the internat- — the U.S. Olympic Committee. We, of course, are working to ensure that the American people are — have access to vaccines. We’ll have enough to vaccine — vaccinate, I should say, all American adults by the end of May. Certainly that includes Olympic athletes, but I would refer you to them on their plans for vaccinating athletes.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple on topics we haven’t touched on yet. But Politico ran a poll yesterday — I’m not sure if you saw it — finding that 53 percent of Americans think that there should be a ban on transgender athletes competing in women’s sports. Included in that were 40 percent of Democratic respondents, who agreed that there should be a ban, and 49 percent of independents.
Obviously, the President is committed to advancing LGBTQ rights. But looking at this through his call-for-unity lens, do you think these opinions are coming more from a place of trying to protect women’s rights or equality in athletics, or are these just flat-out bigoted opinions that the President shouldn’t acknowledge at this point in time?
MS. PSAKI: The opinions in the poll?
Q Yeah —
MS. PSAKI: Well —
Q — people who have voiced support for banning transgender athletes from women’s sports.
MS. PSAKI: I did not conduct the poll, nor was a part of the polling committee that had conversations with people. What I can convey to you is that the President believes, regardless of this poll in Politico — did you say Politico, I guess?
Q Politico and the Morning Consult. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t see the poll or the article, but —
Q It was in “Playbook.”
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t read “Playbook.” But I — but I — the President believes that transgender rights are human rights, that kids should not be discriminated against, and should be able to play sports. And that continues to be his belief and that hasn’t changed. But I’m not going to guess or attribute motive to the people who have responded to that poll or any poll actually.
Q And then on the House’s passage of these gun violence legislation bills today: Has the — has the White House been actively courting Republican Senators to vote yay for this? Obviously, from a numbers standpoint, it’s going to be a lot harder to pass there than in the House.
And if not, does the President believe it can pass the Senate — or those two bills can pass the Senate in their current iterations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, you know, the President is someone who is personally committed to addressing gun violence and working to put in place gun safety measures. He has called on Congress to act. He supports Congress acting. He is looking forward to working with them to advance priorities, including repealing gun manufacturers’ liability shields.
Of course, these pieces of legislation were regarding background checks, and he certainly supports actions by the House to pass those bills. And I expect he will look for opportunities to be engaged and advocate for why these are not political issues; these are commonsense efforts to keep our children safe, keep our country safe, and, you know, ensure that we are, you know, reducing gun violence in the country.
Q And then —
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q Just one follow-up on the Quad summit tomorrow.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Does the President plan on speaking with our allies about ways we can force China to stop the genocide it’s committing against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang in that summit tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that addressing the genocide against Uyghur Muslims is something that will be a topic of discussion with the Chinese directly next week. But, certainly, this conversation tomorrow — and we’re hoping — I’ve invited National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to come and give you a readout of that meeting. I know there’s a lot of interest in the Quad summit tomorrow.
But we expect the conversation to be about a range of global issues. It is not focused on China. Of course, China is a topic on the minds of many leaders in countries, but we expect they will talk about the climate crisis, about economic cooperation, about addressing COVID, a range of issues and discussions.
And, you know, certainly the position of the United States is that what is happening is genocide. And we, you know, will look for opportunities to work with other partners on putting additional pressure on the Chinese. But we will also raise it directly, and it will be a topic of discussion next week.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Jen.
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